Dec 4, 2014

Chinese Salted DUCK EGGS

Chinese Salted Duck Eggs
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46,000 Chinese immigrants came to Hawaii in the mid-to-late 19th century. Although many came as laborers for sugar plantations, they concentrated on getting their children educated. When their contracts expired, many decided to remain here and opened businesses in areas such as Chinatown on Oahu. Today, 1/3 of Hawaii's population can trace some Chinese heritage in their family tree and about 4% of the population is 1st generation Chinese. 

The Chinese have made great contributions to Hawaii's multi-ethnic society and are proud of their many accomplishments. One of those contributions is their cuisine. Chinese food didn't become popular until the 1920s when young cosmopolitans considered it exotic. It wasn't until after World War 2 that Asian cuisines (notably Chinese, Japanese and Polynesian) piqued the interest of mainstream America, foods like egg rolls, fried rice, chicken chow mien, Americanized chop suey served in paper buckets, and of course the fortune cookie. 

It wasn't until much later that America discovered just how good real Asian food is, like Peking duck, sushi, edamame (salted soy beans), five-spice powder, tamari sauce, stuffed dumplings, ramen noodles and salted duck eggs... that's right, salted duck eggs. The Chinese have been preserving duck eggs for centuries, and it is considered a delicacy. They contain rich nutrients such as fat, protein, various amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, iron, various trace elements and vitamins that are needed by the human body and they are easy to absorb.

Originally in China, salted duck eggs were prepared by wrapping the fresh eggs with a mixture of salt and charcoal or clay. Today, it's simplified, the eggs are simply put in a plastic or glass container, salt brine is poured over the eggs, spices are added, and left for 3 to 5 weeks, refrigerated. At that point, the eggs have a perfect balance of oily yoke and salty (but not too salty) egg white. After brining the salted eggs must be cooked before eating them.

Duck eggs are used frequently in East Asia, and are commonplace in the cuisines of countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and of course China. The shells of a duck egg are more porous than chicken eggs, making them perfect for brining, pickling, curing and preserving. There are many ways to prepare salted duck eggs. Iron Chef Mario Batali's "Duck Eggs Over Easy with Fontina on Grilled Bread" (recipe here) looks easy to make, but for me, one of the best ways to eat salted duck eggs is to scrape the contents into a bowl of "Jook" (a kind of Chinese rice porridge, click here for that recipe). 
"Jook" with Chinese Salted Duck Egg
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Salted duck eggs are also good stir-fried with water spinach or other Asian greens, or on top of sugary cheese breads. The cooked yolk can be tossed with chopped tomatoes, chives, and chili to make a light yolk-tomato dressing, then add chopped whites and eat as a salad, or mix the cooked egg white with minced pork and some fresh ginger, spread that in a shallow bowl and put the yolk on top, then steam the whole thing. Salted duck eggs are also really good diced, mixed with fresh raw tofu and a dash of sesame oil, eaten as a cold accompaniment to steamed rice. Or finally, "Joong", a Chinese rice dumpling made with raw glutinous rice seasoned with salt, mixed with split mung beans and stuffed with salted duck egg yolk, sliced lap cheong, cured pork belly, dried shrimp, and dried shiitake mushrooms then boiled (recipe).

You can sometimes find fresh free-range duck eggs at Whole Foods, or in Chinese markets, or visit your local farmer's market and ask around for duck egg suppliers. If you are lucky enough to live on Moloka'i, call my friend George Chung at 567-6738, he and his daughter raise ducks for their eggs, or call Robin and Dano Gorsich at Waialla PermaFarm at 558-8306 for home delivery of duck eggs and fresh organic vegetables. 

Note: Ducks are seasonal layers, much more dramatically so than chickens. According to the American Livestock Conservancy, Campbell ducks lay up to 340 eggs per year and several other duck breeds can lay over 250 eggs per year. That is about 30% more eggs than chickens lay.

When you get your hands on some duck eggs and want to try brining them yourself, here's an easy recipe:

Chinese Salted Duck Eggs 鹹鴨蛋
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
4 star anise corms
4 red chili peppers (dried or fresh)
12 duck eggs
2 quart sized mason jars or one large glass container with lid

Check every egg to make sure there are no cracks on it. Rinse the eggs and wipe them dry with tea towel then refrigerate until you are ready to brine the eggs.

Hours before you wish to make salted eggs put water and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the brining solution to a boil. Once the salt completely dissolves, turn off the heat. Let cool completely.

Place 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns in each jar. Then add 2 star anise corms and 2 chili peppers into each jar. Then take each jar in hand and tilt it horizontally. Slide the cleaned uncooked eggs gently into the jar. You should be able to fit 6 eggs into each quart jar. I leave at least 1 inch of space from the rim to ensure that the brine covers the eggs completely. If you are using a large glass jar and the eggs float to the top, place a ziploc sandwich bag filled with plain water and sealed, on top of the eggs to weigh them down into the brine. Cover with lid. There will be leftover brine.

Pour the brine into the containers and cover the eggs. Tightly cover the containers and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or so, as the brine begins to permeate the egg shells. Label the start and finish dates on the containers. Then place in the refrigerator for at least 1 month.

After 20 days, place one egg in a small pot and cover it with water and a teaspoon of white vinegar (the vinegar helps to keep the shell from sticking to the egg when you peel it). Cover the pot and bring it to a simmer for 30 minutes. Peel and taste the egg. If the egg is not salty enough, leave the rest to brine for a few days more. If you’re satisfied, drain the rest of the eggs and wipe dry. Keep them in the fridge, they can be kept for a few weeks, or up to 1 month.

Note: You can brine the eggs with just salt and water, usually 1 cup of sea salt to 4 cups of water, however there are many ways to flavor the brine. Szechuan peppercorns and star anise are just the most commonly used traditional ingredients. Other ingredients to add include, a bit of peeled garlic or ginger, or a different spice mix. Some people also add a bit of rice wine to reduce the odor of the eggs and to keep bacterial growth to a minimum. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. Brine may be used for the next batch.

Poached Salted Duck Eggs with Potato Hash
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup canola oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into slivers
2 carrots, grated
1/2 small cabbage, shredded
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 poached salted duck eggs
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Fresh chives, finally chopped, and additional chili flakes for garnish

Fill a medium bowl with water and grate the potatoes into the water. When done, remove the potatoes from the bowl and squeeze out all the excess moisture.

Add half the oil to a large cast-iron pan and heat over a medium flame. Add the potatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the onions and carrots. Cook and stir the hash until it begins to brown.

When the potatoes are a medium caramel color, add the cabbage, chili flakes and additional oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the cabbage softens, remove the pan from the heat.

Procedure to poach salted duck eggs:
In a small pot, bring three cups of water to a simmer. Add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. With a spoon, swirl water in a circular motion to create a whirlpool. Crack the egg into the center of the whirlpool, turn off heat and place a lid on the pot. After 4-5 minutes, remove the poached egg with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the second egg.

To serve, place half of the hash onto a plate and place a poached duck egg on top. Garnish with chives and chili flakes. Makes 2 servings.

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